Visit Fremantle Prison and Visit Fremantle and Rottnest Island
Convicts played a vital role in the history of Western Australia. Originally established as a free settlement in 1829, the colony soon foundered. Suffering a severe labour shortage and lacking public infrastructures such as roads, bridges, hospitals, and schools, many of the early settlers abandoned the colony and headed east to the more established settlements in New South Wales and Tasmania. With less than 6,000 settlers remaining by the late 1840s, the failure and collapse of the colony was imminent. In desperate need of free labour to save the colony, the Swan River Colony swallowed their pride and petitioned the British Government for convict labour.
Transportation of Convicts
The transportation of convicts in the 18th and 19th centuries was part of a push by European nations to set up colonial outposts and military strongholds in remote regions. While it sought to punish convicts and deter criminal activity at home, Britain’s ultimate aim in sending convicts to Australia was to build a nation and achieve geopolitical dominance and security in the southern hemisphere. Seeing an opportunity to empty their gaols and secure the western third of Australia, Britain began exiling convicts to the most isolated colony in the world.
Constructed by Convicts
Arriving in Fremantle in 1850, the job of the first convicts in Western Australia was to build themselves a prison. Construction of Fremantle Prison began in 1852, and by 1855 convicts had moved into the partially completed Main Cell Block. The Prison operated as a central depot for receiving and housing male convicts as well as a site of secondary punishment for re-offenders. Convicts supplied the physical labour needed to build roads, bridges, jetties, lighthouses and other public works in the colony.
The Convict System stopped in 1886
Transportation to Western Australia continued until 1868, by which time almost 10,000 men and boys had passed through Fremantle Prison. The convict system ceased operation in 1886 but a small number of convicts continued to serve out their sentences at Fremantle Prison until the early 1900s.
World Heritage listed
Fremantle Prison is now one of Perth’s premier visitor attractions and is the only World Heritage listed building in Western Australia. Used as a place of incarceration for almost 140 years and decommissioned as an operating maximum security gaol in 1991, the empty prison with its solitary cells and gallows now welcomes ‘inmates’ of a different kind – tourists. Visitors can ‘step inside and do time’ with Fremantle Prison’s experienced guides on a range of tours that vary from pure history, to heritage adventure.
You can find more information on this heritage jewel by visiting www.fremantleprison.com.au